"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: Teach Yourself to Write

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Teach Yourself to Write

Many people email me and ask if they need a college degree or a set of special qualifications to be a professional writer.

The answer is a resounding NO!

Writing is not like other ways of making a living, especially if you want to be freelance - that is, independent. Your education, while potentially a useful advantage, is not a prerequisite to success.

In fact, I 've noticed that the more writing qualifications a person has - or aspires to get - the more difficult it seems for them to keep inspired enough to pursue a professional writing career.

Which seems odd but not really...

Writing is about creating, and loving the act of creation. Yes, it's about being a type of mini-god. It's about being continually inspired. And most times an inspired writer is a thousand times more compelling to read than any kind of formally educated writer.

Have you ever noticed how dull a scientific or philosophical thesis can be? Have you thrown away a non-fiction book by a professor or a doctor or a scientist who failed to keep you captivated?

Writing compelling text is not always a skill you can learn but, with enough enthusiasm and dedication, you can often learn how to use words much more effectively than the person with a long list of degrees and writing qualifications.

Of course there are rules and conventions to writing - especially when it comes to writing genre fiction or any other kind of commercial prose.

Paperback novels, screenplays for TV and film, even poetry sometimes, has to conform to expected standards - what we call accepted conventions. Otherwise it will be rejected - usually without comment or encouragement.

Of course you need to be able to spell and deliver good grammar. You need to understand the difference between showing and telling. You need to instinctively grasp structure and symmetry. Most of all you need to have something entertaining and / or informative to say.

But you can teach yourself all of these things.

You really don't need or want a college professor to drum these issues into you - if they ever do nowadays - because that's not the best way to learn effective writing anyway.

The best and most long-lasting and potentially profitable way for you to educate yourself to write well is by simply writing. That's it. Nothing more mysterious.

Because the more you write, the better you get - especially if you're in the habit of submitting your work for publication.

Rejection is the best education you can get as a writer.

A mindset and philosophy of continual self improvement is what ultimately helps you become a professional writer.

Yes, you may need to study other writers - read objectively in other words. Don't just read for pleasure. Analyze how other writers string together words. Menatlly pull apart their paragraphs and chapters. See what's going on underneath the words.

Ask yourself: how does this writer's mind work? How does he/she use words to explain his/her ideas, get across concepts or simply describe the things he/she sees?

Then review your own writing. Are you succeeding in what you set out to do? Is your writing as effective as you'd like it to be? Are there better ways of relating information, detail and emotion?

Constantly strive to improve - and learn new techniques.

Take courses on areas of writing that interest you - especially if they're written by authors you admire or have a level of success you might covet.

Studying and learning from other, more successful, writers is often the best way to teach yourself to write well.

Public education is not always well suited to creating great writers.

Often great writers start with nothing and basically educate themselves, through reading and writing as though their lives depended on it - which of course, to many great writers, it does!

Stephen King once said that he thought good fiction writing technique could be taught. That anyone with a half decent imagination could learn how to present good, effective and most importantly, commercial, saleable manuscripts.

I agree.

But curiously, King later said that he'd changed his mind. Because, he said, what you can't teach is the urge to stay at a desk for hours on end, wanting and needing to write - and being fulfilled by only that activity.

Talent is not necessarily the ability to write good stories, good copy or good articles and non-fiction. There is also talent in dogged perseverance. Either talent or a special kind of madness...

Many would-be writers I know spend much of their time, years even, planning on being a writer, wishing away their lives sometimes, waiting until the time is ready for seriously committing to writing. Often, I speak with people who say: I just need to take this TAFE course, or complete that Creative Writing degree - and then - only then - I'll be able to write. Only then will I be good enough...


Get a grip! And understand the only thing a writer really needs to fulfill their destiny is to indulge in the activity of writing!

Truly, it's not about being good enough or educated well enough to write. Writing - the urge to write - comes from within your soul. And in order to become a professional writer, or even a competent amateur, you need to nurture that desire, that compulsion. Not only that, you need to respond to it. And just do it!

Write - and write every day. Do it a lot. And get it out there.

That's the best education for any writer.

No amount of yearning or learning will cut it.

Writers write.

And the more you write, the better you get.

Make no mistake, my friend, it's as basic as that.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write


"Appearance blinds, whereas words reveal."
Oscar Wilde

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